As tensions mount between Iran and most of the other nations of the world over Iran’s nuclear-related activities, so do the risks of war — either a war of perceived necessity or an accidental conflagration.
It is a dangerous situation that may well get worse before it gets better. The United States, Israel and Iran all are planning military exercises in the Persian Gulf region later this month and next. Such times call for watchfulness, preparedness, restraint, maturity and an awareness that what one says and how one says it can matter as much as what one does.
Thus far, the Obama administration’s approach has been assertive but not aggressive. It has stated clearly what nuclear activities by Iran would be unacceptable, but it has left itself flexibility to respond to murky facts and unforeseen events.
Even in their most strongly worded public comments, senior civilian and military officials have taken care to steer clear of reckless rhetoric, empty threats and macho swagger. This is in sharp contrast to the campaign bluster of some Republicans vying for their party’s presidential nomination.
Iran continues to insist that its nuclear program involves only the peaceful use of nuclear technology to generate electricity. But in November, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that it had acquired considerable evidence that not all of Iran’s nuclear activities were consistent with non-military applications.
In response, the countries of the European Union began working to ban oil imported from Iran. Loss of access to the European market, which buys an estimated 20 percent of Iran’s oil, would deliver a crushing blow to Iran’s economy, already struggling under the effects of long-standing sanctions. EU countries will vote on the proposal later this month and probably will approve it.
The United States responded with legislation, signed by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve but not effective until June, that would make it extremely difficult for foreign countries to conduct business here if they purchase oil through Iran’s central bank. Iran has threatened to prevent oil tankers from moving through the Strait of Hormuz if the new sanctions are enacted.
Concerns deepened on last week when the IAEA confirmed that Iran had started enriching uranium at Fordo, a militarily fortified facility buried in mountainous terrain near the holy city of Qom. The same day, an Iranian court sentenced Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a 28-year-old Michigan man, to death for espionage. Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine with dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, was accused of being a CIA spy.
No sane person outside of Iran wants to see nuclear weapons in its possession. Diplomatic, not military, muscle must be the tool of choice for persuading Iran to keep its promises to the international community.
Military action might cripple, if not eliminate, Iran’s nuclear program, but it would unify the country against an external threat and give the regime an excuse to arrest and execute domestic opponents, just as it did during war with Iraq in the 1980s.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch